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Hearst Over Hollywood

Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies

Louis Pizzitola
John Belton
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 540
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  • Book Info
    Hearst Over Hollywood
    Book Description:

    Hollywood -- crossroads of filmmaking, mythmaking, and politics -- was dominated by one man more than any other for most of its history. It was William Randolph Hearst who understood how to use cinema to exploit the public's desire for entertainment and to create film propaganda to further his own desire for power. From the start, Hearst saw his future and the future of Hollywood as one and the same. He pioneered and capitalized on the synergistic relationship between yellow journalism and advertising and motion pictures. He sent movie cameramen to the inauguration of William McKinley and the front lines of the Spanish-American War. He played a prominent role in organizing film propaganda for both sides fighting World War I. By the 1910s, Hearst was producing his own pictures -- he ran one of the first animation studios and made many popular and controversial movie serials, including The Perils of Pauline (creating both the scenario and the catchphrase title) and Patria. As a feature film producer, Hearst was responsible for some of the most talked-about movies of the 1920s and 1930s. Behind the scenes in Hollywood, Hearst had few equals -- he was a much-feared power broker from the Silent Era to the Blacklisting Era.

    Hearst Over Hollywood draws on hundreds of previously unpublished letters and memos, FBI Freedom of Information files, and personal interviews to document the scope of Hearst's power in Hollywood. Louis Pizzitola tells the hidden story of Hearst's shaping influence on both film publicity and film censorship -- getting the word out and keeping it in check -- as well as the growth of the "talkies," and the studio system. He details Hearst's anti-Semitism and anti-Communism, used to retaliate for Citizen Kane and to maintain dominance in the film industry, and exposes his secret film deal with Germany on the eve of World War II.

    The author also presents new insights into Hearst's relationships with Marion Davies, Will Hays, Louis B. Mayer, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mussolini, Hitler, and the Kennedys. Hearst Over Hollywood is a tour de force of biography, cultural study, and film history that reveals as never before the brilliance and darkness of Hearst's prophetic connection with Hollywood.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50755-4
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. 1 Behind the Scenes, 1880s–1890s
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the 1930s a writer described Hollywood as “the creature and the wish-fulfillment of the mob on which Hearst has played all his life.” William Randolph Hearst, he said, “will not be understood by those who miss his personal preference for the gaudy features that sold his papers along the Fourteenth streets of the land, and who suppose that he consciously and sardonically stooped to a plane below that which he lived.”

    When these observations were made, Fourteenth Street was still fondly remembered by many New Yorkers as its first Great White Way, a gaslight rialto, the cradle of the...

  6. 2 The Artist-Journalist, 1895–1898
    (pp. 17-39)

    On an afternoon in September 1896 Hearst came hurtling around a stairwell of a building in lower Manhattan’s Printing House Square. Somewhere between the ground floor and third floor where his New York Journal newspaper was headquartered he ran into his editor, Henry R. Haxton. Hearst considered the British-born Haxton a kindred spirit who saw journalism as a competitive entertainment, or what Hearst called a “glad sport.” Like everyone else who knew Hearst’s habits in those days, Haxton was used to seeing his boss in quick spurts. The young publisher was in constant—however imprecise—movement; a man nicknamed GUSH...

  7. 3 Film News, 1898–1906
    (pp. 40-72)

    In November 1911 advertisements began appearing for the release of The Mystery of the Maine. The film was what historians today call an actuality, a term that emphasizes the absence of manipulation of real events in a film (the term was not widely used in 1911). Ads at the time of the picture’s release called The Mystery of the Maine a feature film although it was only two reels long. The film showed views of the wreckage of the battleship U.S. Maine, whose sinking in Havana Harbor in 1898 sparked the Spanish-American War. With the cooperation of the War Department,...

  8. 4 Medium for a New Century, 1900–1907
    (pp. 73-93)

    On November 1, 1899, Hearst departed for a long trip abroad, accompanied by the Willson sisters and their parents. Hearst and his party spent the month of November in London, Paris, and seaside villages in Italy. For most of the remaining months of the trip—from December until early April 1900—Hearst took a slow cruise up the Nile River, making stops in Cairo and Luxor. The trip generated the type of gossip that would become a hallmark of Hearst’s life. Some said that he went abroad to live in a harem and dropped out of sight because he suffered...

  9. 5 It Pays to Advertise, 1907–1915
    (pp. 94-110)

    Just one decade into the twentieth century, the moving pictures were a commonly accepted and addictive diversion. Only the saloon and the yellow press—film’s closest rivals—managed to merge and entertain such diverse elements as the rich and the poor, the educated and the undereducated. Despite the enormous popularity of the movies—especially among the newest immigrants and lower classes—the establishment media was slow to embrace them. Most serious journalists, who made their living with words, thumbed their noses at the mass-appealing pictures, or “flickers,” as they were sometimes called, considering them a product of fringe elements.


  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 6 When Men Betray, 1915–1918
    (pp. 111-125)

    In the spring of 1918—three years after the Great War began in Europe—the Germans made an assault on British and French forces on the western front. The U.S. commander, General “Black Jack” Pershing, asked President Woodrow Wilson for a quick call-up of young doughboys to assist the Allies. It was the beginning of the first major infusion of American troops since Wilson had declared war one year before. The intensity of the fighting and the need for reinforcements would fluctuate over the next few months. But it wasn’t until late July that the Germans would be put on...

  12. 7 Perils of Passion, 1915–1918
    (pp. 126-134)

    As the summer of 1918 neared, a small item appeared at the bottom of a page of movie and Broadway gossip in the New York magazine Town Topics:

    The town is plastered with Lithos and other flamboyant advertising material of Marion Davies, who has been making movie appearances here recently. This advertising, which must have cost a fortune, is reported to have been done by William Randolph Hearst, who is deeply interested in the movie business and believed that in Miss Davies he had another Pickford. Last winter the Hearsts entertained the Davies girl in Palm Beach, together with the...

  13. 8 Trader, 1914–1918
    (pp. 135-147)

    In the fall of 1914, through the auspices of the International News Service, the Hearst newspaper chain published a dramatic photograph of a capsized British battleship, the S.S. Audacious, that had been wrecked by a German torpedo. Until that moment, England, maintaining a strict control of war news because of its virtual monopoly on cable communications, had repeatedly denied that the sinking had occurred. It was now confronted with the black-and-white newsprint truth, and it was humiliated. The British-born George Allison, Hearst’s INS man in London since 1912, had obtained the pictures of the H.M.S. Audacious. Allison was charged with...

  14. 9 The Perils of Propaganda, 1917–1918
    (pp. 148-161)

    On the evening of June 23, 1918, a sign went up outside New York’s Broadway Theater warning late arrivals that a film called The Yanks Are Coming would not be coming. In bold yellow letters, the makeshift poster ordered by a furious film producer declared that the showing had been:“STOPPED BY THE CREEL-HEARST COMMITTEE.”

    It is unlikely that more than a handful of moviegoers coming to the Broadway Theater to see the short documentary about aircraft preparedness, filmed by the Universal Film Manufacturing Company at the Dayton-Wright Airplane factory, would have any notion of what the sign meant. Those already...

  15. 10 Fits and Starts, 1917–1919
    (pp. 162-178)

    It may only have been his experience with the film Patria that kept Hearst a safe distance from another film project that resulted in a film producer being sent to prison by the United States government. In April 1917 Robert Goldstein, a Los Angeles costume rental company owner turned motion picture entrepreneur, completed his first film, called The Spirit of ’76. Goldstein’s Revolutionary War period production, written by him and directed by George Siegmann, was most notable for its lurid depictions of British atrocities. It was set in the eighteenth century, but it resonated with modern audiences whose government was...

  16. 11 Over Production, 1919–1922
    (pp. 179-206)

    Phoebe Hearst spent her last Christmas and New Year’s with her son and his family in New York City. At the Clarendon apartment in December, mother and son talked about the expanding Hearst empire. Phoebe felt that Hearst was in bad financial straits and would soon be in need of major bank loans. She told him she intended to release him of any obligation to settle the debt of millions he had amassed since the year of his father’s death. Phoebe’s gift to her son had one condition. Of the total debt, she wanted her son to pay back to...

  17. 12 Fire and Smoke, 1922–1925
    (pp. 207-229)

    In January 1923 a brief letter marked “Personal” was sent to Will Hays by John Eastman, a journalist from the Chicago Daily Journal:“Your January 24 letter has been received. I am almost inclined to ask what will be your plan when the Marion Davies scandal breaks. I assume you are aware that it is imminent, and that when the ‘blow-off’ comes it will create a bigger sensation than many of the meretricious doings at Hollywood.”

    The meaning of the letter is unknown. There is no correspondence elsewhere in the Will Hays papers—including the January 24 letter mentioned here—to...

  18. 13 Industry, 1925–1929
    (pp. 230-259)

    In mid-April 1925, through a setup between the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and publicists at MGM, Marion Davies became the first film celebrity to have her image transmitted over telephone wires. The grainy photographic image of Davies being handed a film makeup bag by Louis B. Mayer was published afterward in the Hearst newspapers with a caption noting that Davies’s next production for MGM would be The Merry Wives of Gotham (later titled The Lights of Old Broadway). At the same time the Davies demonstration was made, Hearst and Loews executive Nicholas Schenck were working on plans to erect...

  19. 14 Above the Law, 1929–1934
    (pp. 260-325)

    In the spring of 1930, Millicent Hearst sat beside Benito Mussolini in the Italian dictator’s Alfa Romeo on a high-speed drive from Rome to the newly excavated town of Ostia. A nervous but excited Millicent pleaded for her driver to slow down. “You’re breaking the law,” was the only threat she could muster up. “I am the law,” Mussolini responded. In a more tranquil setting, resting on the steep stone bleachers of a 12 B.C. amphitheater in Ostia, Millicent fell under Il Duce’s legendary spell. Unaccompanied by security guards, Mussolini spoke without airs to a group of fawning tourists. One...

  20. 15 Remote Control, 1934–1940
    (pp. 326-369)

    Thirteen years before screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. was jailed for refusing to cooperate with a House committee investigating Communism in the film industry and became known as one of the Hollywood Ten, he was traveling between countries that appeared to him to be worlds apart. Lardner was nineteen years old and fresh out of college in 1934, beginning his trip with an eye-opening tour of the Soviet Union. No doubt Lardner was an idealist during his summer abroad—he had joined a socialist club at Princeton University before he went to Russia—but the belief that Communism could improve the...

  21. 16 Hollywood Isolationist, 1940–1947
    (pp. 370-418)

    Indications of Hearst’s omnipresence in Hollywood at the start of the 1940s can be found in two of the most famous novels of the period, Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer Dies the Swan (1939) and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, which was written in 1939 and published posthumously in 1941. Jo Stoyte, a central character in Huxley’s book, is a dour millionaire who owns a myriad of corporations and properties, including a cemetery in Beverly Hills that resembles an amusement park. High on the bluff is Stoyte’s skyscraper castle, constructed “out of pure fun and wantonness” and housing...

  22. 17 No Trespassing, 1947–1951
    (pp. 419-442)

    On an afternoon in 1948 Laura and Sean Brady drove their car around a corner in Beverly Hills, approaching the gated entrance of 1007 North Beverly Drive. The arrival of the young couple had been expected—Sean was escorting Laura on a job interview for a position as a personal secretary—and they were ushered onto the grounds of the estate by two plainclothesmen standing watch. The Bradys were directed down a long driveway that was divided by a reflecting pool and lined by the prerequisite California palm trees that pointed to a house not yet visible. Gradually, beyond the...

  23. Notes
    (pp. 443-500)
  24. Index
    (pp. 501-526)